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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


By Indulto, Los Angeles, July 21, 2021 — Had Bob Costas been one of NBC’s analysts for Saturday’s Haskell broadcast, perhaps one could have expected some pre-race enlightenment regarding the impact of New Jersey’s no-whip rule currently in effect at Monmouth Park.

Surely ex-jockey, Jerry Bailey, might have at least articulated the opposition view of most riders and many bettors and fans to the national audience. Instead, he threw in the towel:

Full disclaimer, if I was still riding, I would be against it too. … But, after 15 years on the other side, I’ve kind of evolved on this in talking to many, many people who find it offensive at riders striking horses when we tell them horses love to run, they want to run, the question is why do we need to hit them, and it’s kind of hard to defend it. So, I can applaud Monmouth and New Jersey for taking this experiment and going this direction. Maybe it will work.”

Also unwilling to upset the apple cart was his co-host, Beyer figure-maker, Randy Moss:

All I can do is just look at the facts, … the cold hard data, and the data says this: So far in the Monmouth Park meeting the average favorite has gone off at odds of 7-5. You would mathematically expect those horses to win 40% of the time.

So what’s the percentage of winning favorites at Monmouth right now? 39.6%.

They are winning as often as they are supposed to win. So, on paper, the races are no less predictable without the whip than they are with it.”

Some might challenge his equating the percentage of winning favorites at a specific price — even the average price — with the percentage of winning favorites overall. But, in the end, it was the running of the Haskell itself that provided a teachable moment.

The event’s promise of keen competition among three of the division’s most talented performers was certainly delivered; culminating in an all-out stretch duel decided by a photo finish.

Indeed it appeared that maximum efforts were actually exerted without whip encouragement. However, the nearly tragic fall of one of that trio due to interference by the subsequently disqualified first place finisher, might have been avoided under less drastic whip restrictions.

Bob Ehalt quoted jockey, Flavien Prat, following his second successive questionable ride aboard the favorite:

Afterward, Prat said he might have been able to handle Hot Rod Charlie better if he had been allowed to use his crop early in the stretch run.

“Yes, the lack of a crop came into play. I was trying to correct him as much as I could,” Prat said. “If I could have hit him just one time left-handed, we would have been just fine, but it is what it is.”

According to’s John Brennan, Monmouth track operator, Dennis Drazin, ‘called Prat’s comments “contrived.”

If he had to hit the horse once, nothing would have happened” in terms of a risk of disqualification, Drazin said. “It was just his error in judgment.”

… “Federal oversight is coming, and by next year there will be national rules on all of this — likely the Kentucky version … [which] has the support of the Jockeys’ Guild …”’

Greg Wood’s lengthy commentary in “The Guardian” provided some of the context that Bailey should have:

My own view would be that the whip is an abiding issue for racing worldwide because of how it looks rather than what it does.

Mark Ratsky’s succinct conclusion said it all: “Nobody knows for sure if the whip rule played a role in what happened in the stretch run of the Haskell but the fact that it may have is enough for us.

And if either Paco Lopez and/or Midnight Bourbon had been seriously injured in that spill, we could very well be talking about this whip rule in the past tense.”

New Data Required?

Unlike the industry-wide agreement to discontinue the use of Lasix in gradual stages by foal crop, the NJ whip rule forced handicappers to contend with an inventory of horses trained for their entire lives to respond to the actual and/or anticipated application of the whip.

With apologies to Mr. Moss, statistical analyses do not always qualify as “cold hard data,” but perhaps the recording of whip strokes by stewards could be utilized effectively and/or profitably if properly presented.

Suppose that running lines in today’s PP charts which display position and beaten lengths at specific intervals – both from the start and finish of a race — could be replaced by a graph of actual velocity across all 1/8 mile intervals with each officially observed whip stroke represented by a vertical line of varying height, thickness, or color between the markers for the interval in which they occurred. Any other form of “encouragement” could also be represented in similar fashion.

By also graphing running order across those same intervals, one could see at a glance how and when a horse’s speed and stamina were utilized, as well as more accurate and detailed measurement of those factors.

I would refer to this combination as a “Running Graph” (RG). Perhaps computer-displayed PPs could enable the customer to view selected RGs for either the same horse — or for two horses from the same prior race — one directly above another, as desired.

Stewards in multiple jurisdictions are already recording the number of whip strokes for each jockey in every race. While velocity may best be measured by radar at fixed time intervals, it has been suggested that a usable degree of accuracy is possible from computerized videotape analysis.

If the industry were to support the collection of velocity data, I’m sure technology would soon become available to collect it in optimal fashion.

Monmouth had announced weeks ago that it would implement fixed-odds wagering by Haskell Day, but despite Drazin’s dogged “optimism,” the bill approved by the legislature at the end of June has yet to be signed by the Governor.

How ironic is it that what is supposed to be a boon for handicappers was planned to be introduced only at a venue where contestants can legally be prevented from performing up to their full potential?

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2 Responses

  1. A racetrack, even in the best interests of the sport, can’t take steps to protect itself and will always be subjected to politics. Fixed odds was approved in NJ but the Governor’s office is sitting on it for some reason.

    And the fact that officials are reticent to share explanations, or a reasonable opinion as to why they cannot be more forthcoming, is a timeless racing tradition that we can only hope HISA will help put an end to.

    In the meantime, The National HBPA is doing the same to the coming mandate as a losing political party continues to decertify an official result despite credible data to support their allegations. Post-truth era indeed…

  2. The “Thoroughbred Daily News” quoted trainer, Doug O’Neill, who ‘was cautious with his words, but made clear his disagreement with the new crop rules.
    “It’s interesting to me how a lot of people make rules who can’t really relate to what’s going on,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to get too involved in the details because I’ve never been a jockey, but I know a lot of top riders [disagree with the ban]. The riding crop has evolved. It’s so ridiculously subtle, and it really just serves as a reminder every now and then. These horses are big animals and the connection between horse and human is strong, but sometimes you need to encourage them to do something you want to do, which a lot of times is to separate from whoever they’re running alongside. So yeah, I do wish they’d reconsider that.”’

    In another TDN article, T. D. Thornton wrote,
    ‘During Wednesday’s New Jersey Racing Commission (NJRC) meeting, Dennis Drazin … implored the commission to provide clarity one way or the other on that specific situation.
    “I’ve seen several statements from [Prat] attempting to blame the whip rule,” Drazin said. “And what he’s saying is his horse started to drift in, [that] if he could have hit the horse once, the [accident and] DQ would not have happened.
    I know that the commission’s rule would have permitted him, if he thought he was going to cause a [safety] problem, to hit the horse once,” Drazin continued.
    “So I’m wondering whether the commission would be willing [to], or have the stewards, give their view of the race.”
    … None of the New Jersey commission members spoke or offered any input during this exchange.’

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